Editor’s note: Expats living in China relish the holiday time and the 2020 Chinese New Year was no different. Thousands of people planned to use their vacation to visit family at home or to travel to some exotic destination. This idea of a dream vacation however soon turned into a nightmare for many.
Towards the end of January, after Wuhan recorded its first Covid-19 death, everyone started panicking. It was at this time that most recognised that this was not just the common flu, this was deadly. Everyone was faced with making the decision of leaving or sticking it out. In this piece Pat, a Jamaican native English teacher in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province shares her story.
Hi, call me Pat. I arrived in China at 10:35 am on October 11th after being away since January 18th for Chinese New Year, just one week short of nine months. In this article, I will share what the past nine months have been like for me as well as outline the process of how I got back into China.
I left China on January 18th, arriving in Bali Indonesia in the wee hours of the morning on the 19th, for what was (on paper) a one-week vacation. While everyone was granted 2 weeks or more vacation days I had several deadlines which I needed to meet and a long to-do list awaiting me.
Needless to say, my return ticket for January 26th was cancelled, as everyone who had an opinion in my life warned me desperately not to return, and I could not blame them. If you should think back to January in China you would remember that it was a scary time with Covid-19 cases increasing every day. So of course, I listened.
My tourist visa for Bali however would expire in 30 days so my driver (one of the most caring and helpful human beings I have ever met), took me to the Embassy to try to extend my visa. Turned out my visa type could not be extended and in any case, only persons holding a Chinese passport were being extended at the time. At the Embassy I was also told to leave on the 28th, even though the visa is for 30 days. Okay. Just great, I thought. Two days less to figure out what I was going to do. Thanks.
The question which plagued my mind for those days was “Where can I go in Asia without needing a visa?” I had about a week to decide. Hooray for Malaysia! So, I get to Malaysia intending to spend two weeks, then head back to China. Surely things would blow over by then. We all now know it didn’t. I ended up spending 28 days in Malaysia.
Stuck in Bali
Armed with my return flight to China, I was finally on my way. I connected in Bali, and then again in Bangkok. I was at the airport in Bali when the agents for the Bangkok flight said I needed a Covid-19 certificate to board the flight, even though I was transiting. “It was the order of the king”, they said. Bear in mind, this was the 3rd week in March and the fastest Covid-19 test being done in Bali at the time would see you getting your result after 8 days. Several of us were denied boarding. I found a hotel close by with hopes of finding another route out. Unfortunately for me, no such route materialised and there began my 4-month stint in Bali, Indonesia. Every flight I booked would either be cancelled later by the Airlines or countries I’d have to pass through would end up closing their borders in that great domino effect. My last flight was cancelled because China announced its borders would close two days before my flight.
Thankfully, by an act of God, I got a flight home to Jamaica the first week of July. I can’t describe how it felt to see and spend time with my family and close friends after basically being alone for six months.
School started in August, and teaching from my home in Jamaica – 13 hours behind – was no fun whatsoever. All the same, my school was doing all the necessary things to try to get me back to China, which I was grateful for. My PU letter was sent. Embassy appointment made. New visa acquired. Now to find flights – or should I say affordable flights. This proved to be next to impossible, but I really couldn’t complain – I was home in my own bed, eating my mom’s meals so I was faring pretty well.
China announced that persons with valid residence permits could return as of September 28th. So, turns out I did not need to go through that whole process of getting a new visa, as my residence permit was still valid. At this point, nothing surprised me and I decided to just roll with the punches. I was just happy for my colleagues in other countries who were having grave difficulties getting new visas.
Fast forward to October when I was able to get a “reasonably” priced flight at 16, 755 RMB (approx. 2.5k USD).
There was a window of 72 hours to get into China from the date of the PCR (Covid-19) test results. Getting an appointment for the test is another story for another day. I would just add here that I am still on the waitlist at the prominent lab that charges 20,000 JMD (approximately 915RMB) for said test. The process from here on is somewhat lengthy so I have tried to outline them in concise steps.
PCR Test Day
Wed. Oct 7th, Covid-19 PCR Test done for free at UHWI (University Hospital of the West Indies) on Wednesday morning at approximately 9:40 am. A lot of other folks were there. My appointment was for 8 am, but it saved me 20k so I didn’t complain. I heard later that the Government was given a grant from a neighbouring country to provide free tests. This was the first day for the free tests. (Just another of countless miracles I experienced over the nine months).
1. Montego Bay, Jamaica – San Francisco USA
- Flight Friday, October 9th, Montego Bay to San Francisco, connection in North Carolina.
- PCR (Covid-19) test result received the 9th at 12:18 pm while waiting to board at Montego Bay (flight was delayed). Thankfully, I still got my second flight.
- I had previously saved my completed all-important Health Declaration Form (dated the 9th) and passport information page in an email. So, I simply attached the results and sent the three documents promptly to the Embassy.
- By the time I got to Charlotte North Carolina, (a little over 3 hours later) the Embassy had stamped and returned the Health Declaration Form, showing the 3-day window for travel Oct. 10th -12.th (As you can see, I was already on my way from the 9th, to give myself a head start, just in case, laws changed overnight).
- Boarded in North Carolina to San Francisco.
- Arrived in San Francisco. Took the sky train to International Departure Terminal.
- I was flying with Korean Air and found the staff to be very helpful and pleasant. I was able to print my Health Declaration Form without any difficulties at their desk.
- Health Declaration Form was checked. I checked in as normal from there. I was given both tickets, 1. From San Francisco to Seoul 2. From Seoul to Zhengzhou.
- I found my gate waited for my flight. All flights had very short waiting times, unlike previous times of travelling to China with long winding lines. This made me so happy.
**Noteworthy. At no time was a temperature check or anything of the sort done for my first two flights. I recall only hearing on the PA system to wear a mask in the airport and to practice social distancing.
2. Seoul Incheon – China
- Arrived in Seoul a little over 12 hours later. Followed transfer signs. Temperature taken for the first time here. Went through standard luggage check.
- Found my gate. Waited for boarding time. At boarding, my Health Declaration Form was asked for. Shown. Boarded. This was the second and last time this health declaration form was used.
- Landed in Zhengzhou 2+ hours later at 10:35am, October 11th.
- While on the plane each passenger was given a health declaration form and custom entry card to fill in. (This health declaration form was not asked for or used at any point, I still have it…oh well, I guess they were trying to help).
- People in full hazmat suits enter the plane, approximately 5-8 minutes after landing.
- Deplaned at about 11am.
- We all entered a waiting room. Filled in online customs health declaration form using the Customs app (the QR code was provided). The form is the same as the hard copy on the plane. When the form was submitted a code was given. You showed the code to a worker, who in turn would give you a number. Then I was told to sit and have a rest and listen for the number being called.
- Numbers are called in batches for example 200-240. This is in Chinese so listen up if you know your Chinese numbers or show your number to a staff member and they’ll tell you if it’s your group.
- My batch was called at approximately 12:50 pm. Almost 2hrs later. (There were a lot of people, the plane to China was jam-packed!)
- Queued up. Sent to another area. Interviewed (how are you feeling, have you been to any parties, come into contact with any Covid-19 positive persons etc) and temperature taken.
- Signed a paper agreeing to the PCR and blood tests.
- Directed to another area for PCR plus blood tests. They were very gentle and spoke English.
- Joined queue to go through customs.
- Scanned code for another app requesting basic travel information.
- Filled in quarantine commitment form.
- Then it was time to collect luggage (if you checked bags). Travelling light helped, I didn’t have any checked bags to collect. This saved me some space in the very, very, very long line which I assumed correctly was the final queue to get to the bus that would take us to the quarantine location.
- Bags go through scanner.
- Hand in quarantine commitment form. Our passport is taken at this time. I guess to avoid anyone trying to escape quarantine.
- By this time everyone was over queuing and started gathering in groups as we waited to be taken to the bus. Of course, I am still social distancing, because I didn’t go through all of that to get Covid-19 now.
- Despite my attempts to social distance, the bus was jam-packed (people were standing, a lady even sat on the step). It was now 3:24 pm.
- We arrived at quarantine location at 4:32 pm, a taxing 6 hours since I landed. The location was a Hot Springs Hotel; quite remote but lovely.
- Temperature taken, lined up outside. At the desk, you were required to write your name, age, contact number. Given room number. Scan QR code to join WeChat quarantine group.
- Dinner was waiting on a table outside each door. I can’t quite remember if I ate. My body and mind were exhausted.
- Necessary phone calls made. A long shower had. Sleep.
**Note the moment I landed in China everyone I dealt with was in full hazmat gear from head to toes.
This is my story in brief. I give God thanks. I live in gratitude.
Quarantine cost 4760¥. 3 meals are provided daily.
firstname.lastname@example.org – Use this email address if you are in Jamaica to request an appointment for a new work visa. They should respond with an appointment date. The embassy is currently still open on a Wednesday only.
No need to apply for new visa if your Residence permit is still valid.
(876) 532-4494 For UHWI Microbiology Laboratory.
Editor’s note: Whether you’re in China, on your way back or still stranded we hope Pat’s story helped to shed some light and provide you with some hope. Though a gruelling process, getting back to China is not impossible more-so now with the ban lifted. To those who made the decision to stay in China, we at Black Livity China would like to commend you for your courage and to those who left and regretted it, don’t. Trust the process and trust yourself.
Pat is a Jamaican native English teacher in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu Province